Lee Takes Office: ESL Promises
President- elect Lee Myung Bak finally took office this past Monday, February 25th, to a crowd of 55,000 spectators at Korea's National Assembly. Lee's landslide victory on December 17th was due in large part to his promise to lift South Korea's somewhat stagnant economy up 7 percent by 2017. Among his other plans, he intends to double per capita income to $44,000 by creating new trade partners, cutting taxes and implementing the first stages of his controversial Seoul-to-Busan canal system, which is estimated to cost 16 trillion won (16.8 billion US). Tied to all of these projects is the commitment to increase and strengthen the English language proficiency of the country's workforce.
As one of the top priorities of the new government, Lee has pledged to spend 4 trillion won (4 billion US) over the next five years in an effort to give high school graduates a more competitive edge as the country's new workforce. Part of this money is also to be spent on hiring 23,000 additional English language teachers. As other Asian countries become more competitive in the ESL market, like Vietnam and Malaysia, Korea will have to increase its incentives to attract these additional teachers. As the population of foreign teachers decrease in South Korea due to greater visa restrictions, Lee has planned to spend some of this new money on training Korean teachers to be just as proficient as native English speakers in an effort to curb the dependency on foreign language workers.
At present, South Korea outspends all of its neighbors on English education and yet still ranks among the worst at English language ability. Throwing money at a problem rarely works, so hiring thousands of more teachers will not likely produce the results President Lee is promising. The success of President Lee's plan will rest on the government's ability to properly restructure public English educational programs and convince parents to stop spending on often poor-quality, over-priced, private education.
For information on President Lee's Canal System see HERE.
For excerpts of President Lee's Inaugural Speech see HERE